Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Prime Time Entertainment," by Marcus du Sautoy. The Guardian, 25 February 2004.

In response to a study in Britain on the teaching of mathematics, du Sautoy suggests that the findings should provide good incentive for a rethinking of how mathematics is taught. He says that "mathematics should be as much about its romance and mystery as about sines and cosines," noting that if students studying musical instruments were only taught scales and arpeggios and never exposed to some of the great music they may one day play or compose, those children would be bitter and uninspired. He gives the example of humankind's attempts to understand prime numbers---providing a very brief chronology of discoveries (with an interesting sidelight on how a Wagner musical composition caught the interest of Reimann) and some examples of the usefulness of primes. He also notes how mathematics has become relevant in popular culture---in books, plays and films. He acknowledges that students must learn the technical side that involves hard, tedious work, but advocates that mathematics education include "the great ideas, history and people that make up the true story of mathematics."

--- Annette Emerson

American Mathematical Society